I was the last person anybody would have expected to get cancer. I was a vegan for two years running, exercised 5 to 6 days a week, and generally gave off an aura of health and energy. Not only was my university work going great, but the Manchester University Equestrian team of which I was a part of had qualified for nationals for the first time in many years. Everything was going perfectly, and I couldn't have been happier.
I've never been much of a drinker, but after 2 months without a drop of alcohol I thought a bit of cider with my boyfriend to celebrate the beginning of Easter break and the end of my dissertation was in order. Halfway through my pint however I found myself rubbing my neck- it felt tingly and strange, almost throbbing. When I got home that evening I discovered a marble-sized lump just above my collarbone. My boyfriend encouraged me to see a doctor straight away to get it sorted out, and I've never been more grateful for a piece of advice!
Over the next 2 months I had several blood tests done, though they only showed elevated white blood cell counts. At a loss, my doctor gave me antibiotics for a week. Meanwhile, the lump had grown just shy of golfball-sized, and I could feel it pressing against my throat and making it slightly difficult to breathe. A feeling of malaise had descended and I found myself battling heavy fatigue a few days a week. Furthermore, when I was going on my runs I felt like I couldn't draw a full breath- it was almost as though my mild asthma had suddenly flared up. Web MD, as always, pointed towards cancer, but I didn't take it seriously as I knew more often than not it wasn't to be trusted for serious diagnoses. I was eventually sent for a chest X-ray by my GP and it showed a large mass between my lungs- enlarged lymph nodes- as well as a large mass pressing on my trachea. I was given an urgent referral to a haemotologist, but it was an appointment I never attended. During this time I had been sending all of my test results home, to Boston, MA, USA. The X-ray was the straw that broke the back of my mother's patience- she and my doctor wanted me home as soon a possible to sort out whatever was wrong with me.
A week before exams was not the ideal time for a trip to America, but I saw no other option if I wanted to both appease my parents worry and get myself back to full health before nationals. I left Manchester with a lightly packed suitcase and a kiss for my boyfriend, Luke, saying “ I'll see you next week! ” before disappearing into the departures terminal. Little did I know that that would be the last time I saw him for over 2 months.
The next few weeks passed by in an emotional, turbulent whirlwind. A day after my arrival I had been booked in for every blood test under the sun as well as a CT scan. I'd never seen so much blood leave my body in such a short period of time! The results of the CT scan came hours later, and I was informed that it was almost certain that I had a type of cancer called Lymphoma. I was completely shocked and not quite sure how to react. I wasn't so much scared of the disease itself, but moreso disappointed at the things I was going to be missing out on because of it. My 21st birthday was a mere week away, my team would have to attend nationals without me, my studies would have to grind to a halt as I'd not be able to sit my important final exams necessary to move me along to my final year.
A long day at the cancer hospital and two biopsies later brought us to a diagnosis of Stage 2a Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Luckily, it was one of the most curable cancers that the hospital deals with and I was assured that I had a long, healthy life ahead of me after treatments. I had to think about saving my eggs in case the chemotherapy affected my fertility and all sorts of other things that I never thought i'd have to think about on the cusp of my early twenties. The worst part was having to tell all of my close friends and family both at home and abroad. I felt so bad for causing them worry! Luke was incredibly calm and supportive, keeping me focused and smiling even from across the ocean.
I was sentenced to 6 cycles of ABVD chemotherapy. I had to go in every two weeks for about 5 hours to see my doctor and receive treatment. The actual act of chemo was quiet and uneventful. But after that first treatment, which I was told would be the worst of all, I lost nearly a stone. I had terrible mouth soreness which kept me from eating, bone aches, fatigue, as well as nausea and stomach troubles. Luckily that was the worst of it and from then on I dealt fairly well with the treatments. I had what I called 'good' cycles every other fortnight- during these I tended to recover quickly and have near normal energy levels. My bad cycles were mostly bad due to fatigue and mouth soreness, but I learned that forcing myself to eat after a treatment greatly reduced side effects.
After the third chemo, I began experiencing heavy hair loss. In an attempt to slow it down I cut my shoulder-length hair into a long pixie. It was in vain however, as less than a week later at the wig shop I had it shaved off. Of course it happened to be the same day that my boyfriend was coming to visit for a month! He didn't hesitate in embracing my baldness, and made me feel just as beautiful as when I had hair. The summer passed fairly quickly and chemo became easier and more predictable, although the fatigue got worse. I kept riding throughout this time, even if it was only for 20 minutes or so. I didn't want to lose all of the fitness I had worked so hard to achieve!
As October came around, my veins were no longer tolerating the harsh chemicals of chemotherapy. My skin would erupt in itchy and painful reactions during treatment, and my veins became hard and unusable. It was time for a port.
Unfortunately for me, the port didn't heal correctly and after 6 days I woke with a fever and an unbearable pain in my neck. We went to the hospital and were told after a few blood tests that I had a systemic staph infection, and the port was likely contaminated when it was initially inserted. This was quite a rare thing to happen and I was simply unlucky. The port was removed and I had to stay in the hospital for 4 days receiving the strongest antibiotics available, which got more and more difficult as my tired veins resisted further IV penetration. I was fitted with a PICC line in my left arm on the last day and had to carry around a pump of antibiotics for 2 weeks to clear the infection.
After I was free from the antibiotics, I continued riding but could only use one hand due to the PICC line. My morale was suffering as I wasnt allowed to do any strenuous exercise since it could compromise the dressing which needed to be changed once a week as it was. I powered through the final treatments, and on November 12, 2013 I finished chemo. Following this day were several parties and overwhelming love and support from all of my friends and family. My official 'all-clear' came on December 20th after a clean, normal PET scan.
January came in a hurry and I suddenly found myself thrust back into university life. For all my anticipation, it was harder and perhaps more lonely than I had expected. Many of my friends were on placement or busy with their final year projects, and I was now in a year group where I knew nobody. I found solace in the equestrian club once again, where I was lucky enough to get my place on the team back upon arrival! My hair was short and boyish, I was a stone heavier than I was before I started treatments, and I generally didn't quite feel like the happy, fit, healthy girl I was last time I was in Manchester. Luke stuck by my side and gave me as much support as he could whilst doing his own degree also at Manchester university. It took me a while to find my feet, but as my hair grew and I settled in I started to finally feel like myself again.
My worries subsided, I started focusing on my fitness and health once again. With spring coming closer, and with May marking a year since my diagnosis, I wanted to have a goal to work towards and an event to mark the occasion in a positive way. I wanted to show the world that a year on after being diagnosed with cancer as a 21 year old, I was back to being more fit and healthy than ever.
The Great Manchester Run on May 18th seemed like the perfect opportunity to prove myself. As I toyed with the idea of entering, I saw that Leukaemia and Lymphoma research was one of the optional charities to raise money for. With a quick look around their website, I was sold. I recruited Luke to run and fundraise with me, as he'd supported me through everything and I knew he could help to prepare and get me through this run. So far we have raised £450 and have raised our target 3 times since beginning fundraising in early March!
Training is going great and I'm feeling fitter than ever, having run 5 miles straight for the first time in my life. I run 2-3 times a week along with cross-training, weight lifting, and of course, horseback riding with the team. I'm thrilled to report that we have qualified for regionals once again, which are on April 16th, and I have been voted vice-captain for next year! I hope to run my first full 10k in April over the Easter holidays. I am attempting to keep training vlogs on my youtube channel to track my progress, which can be found on my channel https://www.youtube.com/user/wannabefitvegan.
I am so excited to be able to give back to the people who have done the painstaking research and science that have allowed me to return to health so quickly after such an intimate encounter with a life-threatening disease. I hope that my story will be shared with young people everywhere who are fighting this cancer, and give them hope especially in those dark days of the last few chemo treatments. I'm looking forward to the race in May, and a lifetime of health and happiness to follow!
my fundraising page: www.justgiving.com/LaceyLukeRun